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Redbridge domestic violence: Victims living in B&Bs as women’s refuges face funding cuts

PUBLISHED: 12:57 27 October 2017 | UPDATED: 13:29 27 October 2017

Baljit Banga, of the London Black Women's Project, says its refuges turned away 46 women last year. Picture: Ken Mears

Baljit Banga, of the London Black Women's Project, says its refuges turned away 46 women last year. Picture: Ken Mears

Archant

With beds in domestic violence refuges massively oversubcribed and the council cutting funds, investigations journalist EMMA YOULE discovers hundreds of battered women in Redbridge are being housed in B&Bs

Brought to you by Archant's Investigations UnitBrought to you by Archant's Investigations Unit

Hundreds of victims of domestic violence in Redbridge have been placed into B&Bs – as women’s refuges face huge pressures on funding.

A Recorder investigation, carried out jointly with the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, has shown Redbridge Council’s funding for refuge beds has fallen by 30 per cent since 2010.

Over the same time the number of high risk domestic violence cases handled by the council has doubled.

Our research has revealed stretched services are struggling to meet demand, with charities unable to secure refuge beds for women in Redbridge.

Hundreds are instead being housed in temporary accommodation.

John Cryer, Labour MP for Leyton and Wanstead, said: “The figures obtained by the Recorder on domestic violence provision are deeply troubling and reflect a wider trend of central government-imposed cuts affecting core services for vulnerable people across a range of areas.”

Victims of domestic violence are struggling to access services. Picture: Laura DodsworthVictims of domestic violence are struggling to access services. Picture: Laura Dodsworth

Over the past seven years, 340 victims of domestic abuse in Redbridge have been placed in bed and breakfasts – or 38 per cent of the total 891 survivors who sought support.

Although not every woman wants or requires the safe haven of a refuge, sometimes it can be vital.

“A refuge is more than just a roof over someone’s head,” said a spokeswoman for the charity Refuge.

“Expert staff support women practically and emotionally. They understand the trauma women have experienced and are there to listen.”

The council’s funding pays for 10 refuge beds, provided by Refuge.

The charity says 80 per cent of its services nationally have experienced cuts since 2011, and its country-wide funding has been slashed by half.

Baljit Banga (right) and her team at London Black Women's Project, (from left) Parm Bhambra, Frida Loney and Camille Rouse, provide vital services to domestic abuse victims. Picture: Ken MearsBaljit Banga (right) and her team at London Black Women's Project, (from left) Parm Bhambra, Frida Loney and Camille Rouse, provide vital services to domestic abuse victims. Picture: Ken Mears

Other charities are being forced to turn women away.

London Black Women’s Project (LBWP), which runs refuges for black and minority ethnic women in Redbridge, said it struggles to meet demand across all the boroughs it works in.

“Last year I think it was 46 women who couldn’t be accommodated because we didn’t have bed spaces,” said Baljit Banga, director of LBWP. “Without that their safety is in jeopardy.”

The Recorder was told women who are the most vulnerable often struggle hardest to access services.

Heather Harvey, research and development manager at the charity Nia, which runs specialist refuges, said a lot of safe houses did not take women with high needs.

These include serious mental health issues, drug and alcohol problems, or women with no recourse to public funds due to their immigration status.

The number of domestic violence cases handled by police in London has doubled in a decade. Picture: Laura DodsworthThe number of domestic violence cases handled by police in London has doubled in a decade. Picture: Laura Dodsworth

“If the woman can’t access benefits, or public funds, then she can’t actually stay in the refuge,” she said. “So you will have women who are destitute, on the street, or staying with violent abusive partners because they’ve got nowhere to go, and their lives are at risk.”

Another charity, Solace Women’s Aid, provides a domestic and sexual violence advice line for Redbridge women and says it misses at least half of calls because it does not have the resources to staff it more often.

Across London, councils have cut their budgets for domestic violence refuges by up to 75 per cent since 2010-11, and nationally refuge funding has fallen by nearly a quarter over that time.

Meanwhile, the number of domestic violence cases handled by police in London doubled in the past decade.

Redbridge Council said supporting victims of domestic violence was “of the utmost importance to the council”.

A spokesman said: “In fact over the last three years the overall budget has increased from £235,000 to £434,000. It is widely considered that the rise in the number of reported cases of domestic violence is due to more people feeling confident enough to come forward when they are victims, so much of the crime is no longer hidden. We welcome this development.”

MP Iain Duncan Smith has written urging Redbridge Council to 'revisit funding for these vital services'. Picture: PAMP Iain Duncan Smith has written urging Redbridge Council to 'revisit funding for these vital services'. Picture: PA

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Anne’s story: ‘Refuge allowed me to rebuild my life free from fear’

Anne was placed into a safe house run by the charity Refuge.

When she arrived, she was extremely anxious and scared. She’d spent the night in a police station and had recent bruises – her abusive husband had kicked her out and she had nowhere to go.

When Anne tried to divorce her husband he reacted very badly and tried to threaten her family back home and made threats via her solicitor.

This was all very stressful for Anne, who started experiencing extreme panic attacks and was eventually diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

John Cryer MP said government-imposed cuts were affecting core services, including provision for victims of domestic violence. Picture: Peter ArkellJohn Cryer MP said government-imposed cuts were affecting core services, including provision for victims of domestic violence. Picture: Peter Arkell

The divorce went to court, and Refuge staff supported her at the hearings. Eventually she was granted a divorce and decent settlement. Her Refuge worker helped her to control her PTSD and panic attacks.

Anne has now left the refuge and has rebuilt her life, free from fear and violence.

Anne’s name has been changed to protect her identity

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MPs demand action to protect funding

MPs in Redbridge have called for urgent action to tackle cuts to domestic violence services.

Conservative MP for Chingford and Woodford Green, Iain Duncan Smith, told the Recorder: “Today I have written to the chief executive of Redbridge Council to urge the council to revisit funding for these vital services, especially local specialist services which too often lose out.”

He said: “Sadly, patchy funding provision does happen, largely because funding for domestic violence is not ring-fenced, and also because it is up to individual councils to determine how much they spend.”

Labour MP for Leyton and Wanstead John Cryer said he had been contacted by abuse survivors in his constituency.

“Victims of domestic violence come to my advice surgeries from time to time, for example seeking a move away from an area where their former partner or their associates know where they live, which presents a very real threat to them,” he said. “Because of the crisis in housing stemming from a combination of frozen Local Housing Allowance, rising rents, and government welfare measures such as the cap, councils are really struggling to find adequate accommodation for those most in need.”

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Need help? If you are seeking support relating to domestic or sexual violence, contact Refuge for free, confidential advice on 0800 169 7759.

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